Review by Paul Bowler
After defeating the members of the Justice League infected by the Joker’s new toxin, Batman resolves to find the Joker. Unable to glean any clear lead, the Dark Knight visit’s the one place he hates most of all, the Joker’s cell in the ruins of Arkham Asylum. Batman becomes trapped when the Joker, disguised as Mr Border, locks him in the cell and fills the room with a paralytic gas. With no antidote available to counteract this new strain of Joker toxin, Gotham is now in the grip of a terrifying Joker-apocalypse. Batman must confront horror and tragedy in his quest to save the city as the Joker’s insidious scheme takes a horrifying new direction…
The third part of Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s thrilling new epic, Endgame, continues in Batman #37 as the full horror of the Joker’s return begins to impact on Batman’s life and the city he is sworn to protect. With its ambiguous resolution to last issues cliff-hanger, Snyder and Capullo masterfully syncs our imaginations with Bruce’s paralysing descent into terror – with a scene that mirrors the chilling first page of Batman #15 – as he recovers from the anesthetic gas in the Batcave. The opening moments, where Bruce assesses the outbreak in Gotham with Alfred and Julia, quickly reveals just how deadly the new virus the Joker has unleashed really is. It’s resistant to every antidote Bruce has ever devised, and it seems the Joker has engineered his masterpiece to deliver the last laugh in possibly the most horrible way imaginable for the citizens of Gotham.
The dark shift in tone with Batman #37 is a marked contrast from the previous two issues where Batman was fighting the Justice League. Scott Snyder ramps up the tension and horror as he throws Batman headlong into a desperate race against time to return to city and locate Patient Zero in the Gotham Presbyterian Hospital. The phone conversation with Gordon is just one of many standout character driven moments in this issue. Gotham is going to hell, the military are on the verge of putting city into quarantine, and even Batman is taken aback when he witnesses Jim Gordon’s observations about the nastier aspects of the virus for himself. Indeed, the aptly chosen ring tone on Gordon’s mobile phone is the only light moment in this entire issue. Enjoy that wry smile you’ll have to yourself in that scene, because I assure you, from here on in Snyder is going to keep on pushing your buttons and ramping up the terror right up until the very last page!
Greg Capullo brings a chilling clarity to Snyder’s horrific vision of a Gotham plunged into chaos by the Joker’s virus. From the brooding atmosphere of the cave and Gordon’s boarded up apartment, to the hordes of infected massing the streets and stalking the halls of the Gotham Presbyterian Hospital, Capullo’s art galvanises everything Snyder has already cleverly seeded in our imagination about Gotham’s most haunted location. Danny Miki’s inks enhances the ominous atmosphere that pervades this issue even further, while FCO Plascencia’s outstanding colors ensure that Batman’s nightmarish search of the hospital and Gordon’s research into the past – with those frightening moments of realization half glimpsed in the shadows – will chill you to the very marrow of your bones.
Events culminate with the shocking discovery of Patient Zero’s identity and a twisted re-enactment of a pivotal moment from Batman’s past. These closing scenes will leave you pouring over these finale pages again and again, as the all encompassing horror of this issues game changing cliff-hanger finally hits home. If anything, this issue is all the more remarkable for how little we actually see of the Joker to begin with. His presence seems to hang over every page, with Snyder keeping us guessing every step of the way, so that when the Joker does actually appear the jolt of surprise heralds a deliciously macabre twist that few could have expected. The Joker is scarier than ever in Batman #37, and there are some genuinely unnerving moments that linger in the memory long after you’ve finished the issue.
The First Laugh turns out to be a very appropriate title for this issues backup story from James Tynion IV, featuring terrific art by Jon Mccrea, with colors by Michelle Madsen, this story follows the inmates who escaped from Arkham and were given the task of telling Doctor Zaheer their stories by the Joker. With Gotham in turmoil, Doctor Zaheer’s desperate mobile phone message for help is cut short when she is discovered by the inmate, Morton, and has to listen as he remembers the tale his teacher once told him about the first laugh in Gotham City. This nerve jangling story by Tynion is really creepy, the art captures the horrific tone perfectly, and the way everything blends seamlessly into Endgame’s storyline is really ingenious.
With its brilliant writing from Scott Snyder and Capullo’s art, Batman #37 takes Endgame to unparallel new heights of excellence, and challenges all our expectations about this issue. Hell, that haunting Joker cover by Capullo, Miki, and FCO is worth the price of admission alone! Take if from me, this issue of Batman is edge-of-the-seat stuff, and it’ll probably have you checking under the bed tonight as well. Plesant dreams everyone…